Authorities in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Yadav district were thwarted in their attempt to inspect an ethnic Jarai community’s timber stocks on Tuesday, with some officials and observers ascribing the incident to a clash of cultures.
District officials and police had come to Som Kol village in Som Thom commune to ascertain whether timber held by residents was for community or commercial purposes. But upon arrival, they were surrounded by a group of villagers – said by commune police chief Cham Nhach to number more than 100 – intent on preventing the inspection, provincial spokesman Nhem Sam Oeun said.
Oeun said the officials withdrew as they “did not want to make trouble with the villagers” but that the authorities would not be deterred from their investigation. “The police will still try to determine if the timber is legal or not,” he said.
Oeun said he believed the villagers may have a limited understanding of the law, leading them to confront the police.
Adhoc provincial monitor Chay Thy said it is a part of the Jarai community’s culture to offer each other support in times of need, which he said could explain Tuesday’s confrontation.
“They know villagers’ knowledge of the law is limited, so they will find an alternative way to solve the case,” he said.
However, commune police chief Nhach said he believed the villagers had been encouraged to resist the inspection by as-yet unidentified timber traders.
Sal Nik, leader of the neighbouring Phum Lae community, said villagers from outside his community make frequent nocturnal tree-felling forays into his community forest.